Gas subsidies: Covid Commission asked to explain backflip on evidence to Senate committee | RenewEconomy

Gas subsidies: Covid Commission asked to explain backflip on evidence to Senate committee

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Chair of the National Covid-19 Commission faces calls to explain why a pro-gas working group report contradicts evidence provided to a parliamentary committee.

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Head of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission Nev Power. AAP Image/Lukas Coch
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The chair of the National Covid-19 Coordination Committee, Nev Power, has been called on to explain leaked recommendations of a manufacturing working group that contradict evidence provided to a parliamentary committee.

On Wednesday, a final report of the National Covid-19 Coordination Committee’s manufacturing working group, which has a membership biased towards pro-gas interests, has advocated for the Morrison government to effectively underwrite new gas projects and lift regulations on the industry.

The leak of the final report follows a similar leak of a draft version of the report in May, which first detailed the recommendations in support of the gas industry, but which was played down at the time as not reflecting the final views of the Covid-19 Commission.

Appearing before a senate committee tasked with oversight of the Morrison government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, chair of the NCCC Nev Power said that the working group would not advocate for subsidies for the gas industry.

“The leaked report doesn’t reflect the views of the commission. It was an interim report. I can’t recall whether we’d seen it at all or whether it was in very early draft and presentation when we saw it,” Nev Power told the senate committee.

“The commission is not recommending any subsidised delivery of gas or any other energy system, but we have talked about the provision of infrastructure to reduce the cost of transportation and to deliver lower cost. So the leaked report should not be taken as a view from the commission.”

However, the leaked findings of the NCCC manufacturing working group revealed by Nine newspapers showed that the NCCC manufacturing working group had continued to advocate for the federal government to provide direct support for new gas projects, including by guaranteeing to purchase unused gas.

The report of the manufacturing working group has not yet been officially released, and the leaked recommendations were promptly slammed by environmental and investor advocacy groups, arguing that the gas industry did not offer a good opportunity to help the Australian economy and would ultimately contribute to Australia’s growing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Australia Institute’s climate and energy program director Richie Merzian said that NCCC chair Nev Power owed an explanation to the senate oversight committee for why the working group was now recommending to effectively subsidise the growth of the gas industry.

“After a leaked report showed the Commission was calling for massive subsidies for the gas industry, Neville Power told the Senate oversight Committee that was not the Commission’s view,” Merzian said.

“But reports today of another leaked document show the Commission has in fact doubled down on gas subsidies. Mr Power owes the Senate Oversight Committee an explanation.”

The Australia Institute called on the federal government to improve the transparency of the advice it was receiving on the response to Covid-19. However, it appears that prime minister Scott Morrison is set to further reduce the ability of the general public to access and analyse the work of the Covid-19 Commission, by having it report directly to the federal cabinet.

“These revelations demonstrate the pressing need for greater transparency and accountability for the National COVID-19 Commission. It is concerning that these leaked reports are the only way the public has of knowing what the Commission is recommending to our Government. More concerning still, this week the Prime Minister has instead decided to make the Commission even less transparent,” Merzian added.

“This is simply no way to run a recovery effort. The public has every reason to be very concerned about this secretive process riven with conflicts of interest that appears fixated on helping the gas industry. Australia Institute research shows subsidies to the gas industry is just about the worst option for recovery efforts, providing few jobs, high energy costs and high emissions.”

As part of a range of governance changes made in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, Scott Morrison has opted to abolish the COAG system of meetings between federal, state and territory governments, and replaced it with a secretive set of “national cabinet” meetings that require participants to keep proceedings confidential.

This includes the replacement of the COAG Energy Council with a national cabinet ‘subcommittee’ which sees the proceedings of meetings held between energy ministers being held behind closed doors, with ministers held to strict confidentiality and without the publication of a communique detailing the decisions reached.

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